New rules to speed union elections

By Sam Hananel
Associated Press / June 22, 2011

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WASHINGTON — Regulators are proposing sweeping new rules to dramatically speed up union elections, which could make it easier for unions to win new members but cut the time businesses have to mount antiunion campaigns.

The National Labor Relations Board unveiled the proposed rules yesterday, saying the current ones build in unnecessary delays and encourage litigation.

The proposal is expected to draw fire from Republicans and business groups, who have complained the board is pro-labor.

Currently, most labor elections occur 45 to 60 days after a union gathers enough signatures, a time many companies use to discourage workers from unionizing. The new plan could cut that time by days or weeks by simplifying procedures, deferring litigation, and setting shorter deadlines for hearings and filings.

It would not impose a deadline for elections, as many labor leaders had hoped.

Board chairwoman Wilma Liebman said that “resolving representation questions quickly, fairly, and accurately has been an overriding goal of American labor law for more than 75 years.’’

Unions have long complained that employers use procedural delays and litigation to hold up elections and intimidate workers. Some hire consulting firms to produce videotapes, draft talking points, or create brochures to deter unionizing.

Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO’s president, praised the plan, calling it “a common sense approach to clean up an outdated system.’’ The current system is “a broken, bureaucratic maze that stalls and stymies workers’ choices,’’ he said.

The proposal was approved 3 to 1. The board’s lone Republican, Brian Hayes, said the proposal would result in the “quickie elections’’ union leaders have long sought. He said elections could be held in as little as 10 days from the filing of a petition.

“Make no mistake, the principal purpose for this radical manipulation of our election process is to minimize or, rather, to effectively eviscerate an employer’s legitimate opportunity to express its views about collective bargaining,’’ Hayes wrote.

Glenn Spencer, of the US Chamber of Commerce, said the plan would interfere with basic management decisions.

Labor leaders pushed in 2009 for Congress to pass “card check’’ legislation to allow unions to sign up workers without secret-ballot elections if they got enough signatures. The measure failed.